Author's Note: For those of you who've read Pathways of Darkness, my many thanks, and please put up with this first chapter, as it contains many things which have been repeated. However, this is an ought-to-read for new readers, and I believe I'm at least obliged to give them at least a bit of backstory on this.
A brief relation of important Arkonese mythology and events leading up to the story.
In the beginning, there was nothing but the Ether. Swirling through the Void and the Planes, Ether, the Source, flowed freely, latent energies awaiting to be tapped.
And then the gods came.
From whence they did come is shrouded in secrecy. Some say they came from somewhere beyond the Planes, others say they were born from the Ether itself. Whatever the case, the came, they saw, and they decided to stay. Constructing a magnificent palace of crystallized Ether amongst the Planes, they called their new abode Whalthok, and settled there. Discontented with doing their own work, the Pantheon fashioned servants too, experimenting with a myriad of body structures, keeping what they found pleasing and discarding what was not.
And so aeons passed. Comfortable as though they were in their magnificent home, the gods grew bored, even with the spate of novel and supposedly amusing pastimes such as "Blow up objects randomly" or "Bake cookies from stardust" or even "What's the time, Mr. Gord?" Because of their growing boredom, the gods did what philosophers have argued to be both the most amazing and most horrible thing…
They got itchy and decided to make stuff.
Firstly, they started with simple things. Deftly splitting the Ether into the five components of Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Time, the gods crafted beings from the Elements to their liking, Elemental Lords. Designed to be paragons of their creators' power, the Elemental Lord were sculpted to be powerful beings, drawing their life-force from the Ether itself. When the gods had completed their work, they set them upon their respective planes, except for those of Time, who wandered back and forth through eternity, forever representing the replacement of what was with what would be.
And the gods looked upon their creations, and saw it was good. Well, almost.
Within Whalthok, there was one servant above all others, a dedicated and trustworthy being, proud to be delegated with the most important tasks of his masters.
This servant's name was Duffikus.
Everything was well, till the cookie jar ran empty. It ought to be of interest to the reader to note that the cookies which deities consume are much unlike the cookies that mortals stuff their faces with, the former baked with stardust and happiness (which interestingly, in short supply at the time) while the latter using old boring flour and butter.
Although there's no good comparison to a Celestial Cookie, the next best easily accessible alternative would be Magic-On-A-Stick. And you can eat as much of it as you want and not get fat. Then again, the gods probably didn't know, and still don't know what the hell fat is.
Having neglected to make more of those delectable treats, it was no surprise that given their present rate of consumption, they were all gone in only a matter of a few aeons. Putting her hand into the cookie jar in one fluid motion, Hydros the Waverider discovered the horrible truth.
"The cookies are all gone!" she shrieked.
So began a great conflict amongst the Pantheon over who took the last Celestial Cookie. Arguments were plentiful, and so were thunderbolts. Frightened, all the gods' servants ran for cover within Whalthok, so terrible the hissy fits their mistresses and masters threw. Eventually, after many singed faces and furniture, it was determined that none of them, indeed, had taken the aforementioned confection. Who had pilfered the treat?
When Management fails to come up with a reason, there's always one fallback: blame Production.
Suspicion fell upon the numerous servants which dwelt in the abode, and one by one they were brought before their creators and thoroughly interrogated using tried-and-true methods such as "repeatedly asking 'did you do it?' until accused breaks down and confesses" and "random illogical statements strategically placed to drain the opponent's will to argue". Unfortunately, none of them admitted to the dastardly deed, only serving to incense the gods more.
While they were making a mountain out of a molehill, those deities could simply have cooked up another batch of cookies, but they were too caught up, and it was fun, a great change from the normal dreariness which dominated the atmosphere of Whalthok.
Finally, a Task Force and Think-Tank was convened, and it was reasoned thus: since none of the Pantheon present had indeed stolen the biscuit, one of their creations must have done so. Obviously, the Elemental Lords were far away in the Planes, and thus had an alibi, and none of those in their palace would admit to it, so these deities where pretty much stumped. However, it was decided that in order to keep up their appearance of infallibility, one unlucky individual would have to take the brunt of this sin.
Arbitrarily chosen it was, this unlucky individual turned out to be Duffikus. Circumspectly, it was noticed that Duffikus had been lurking around the kitchen during supposed time of crime, and thus was prime suspect. Of course, the gods didn't have evidence, but who needs proof when you're an all-powerful being?
Ignoring Duffikus' protests of innocence and claims that he was only washing the sink (Ambrosia really leaves disgusting, ugly stains.) , the gods evicted Duffikus from their magnificent crystal palace, and banished him into the cold, dark emptiness of the Void, where the utter nothingness tore at the forsaken spirit's soul. Other lesser beings whom came to plead for leniency or forgiveness for their fellow servant found their cries fallen upon deaf ears, and upon seeing the cold-heartedness of their masters and mistresses, rallied around the fallen one and followed him into exile, not wishing to serve such callous beings.
When Caine, god of Valour, returned from the Planes where he had being tending to the Elemental Lords, he was horrified to discover what his peers had done, and admitted to taking the last cookie for a quick snack while working. Begging the rest of the Pantheon to reverse their decision, Caine, too, found them unwilling to do so, for the tohers would rather keep up appearances rather than be righteous.
Saddened, the Valorous one retreated, and did not see the other gods for a long time.
Within the Void, Duffikus' initial confusion and denial about his predicament turned to anger, blame and depression, but instead of accepting the nature of his masters and forgiving them, this cycle of hate and rage fed upon itself, festering and growing till it drove both him and his followers quite insane. Because of this mindless desire for vengeance, even when Caine came to see his former servant and ask forgiveness for the Pantheon, Duffikus hardened his heart and refused to let bygones be bygones.
Over the course of aeons of wandering, this pent-up, burning rage twisted a once noble being into the very thing his masters were-an unfeeling, hard-hearted demon, forever known as the Devourer.
Gradually, the gods forgot the incident as time passed, and the normal dreariness of existence settled back in. Creating was quite entertaining, and after a few meetings to discuss appropriate courses of action, they decided to forge yet more from the raw Ether around them. This time their project would be more ambitious, a world of its own, which they would populate with creatures. Rather than the creatures themselves having power as in the case of the Elemental Lords, the Ether would stream into their creation, and from it, sustain life upon it.
And they thought it was a great idea, and set to work.
Toiling tirelessly with the exception of Caine, who was still in seclusion, the gods wrought an orb of raw, condensed Ether, and split it into the five elements which it was composed of. Much discussion was held upon what should be done to make it a perfect example of the gods' strength, and eventually a compromise was reached, especially amongst the goddesses Hydros and Isabelli, both of whom wanted more area allotted for the sea and land respectively. After much consideration, the major landmarks we know today, such as Mount Theror, Unkthor Pass, and the Ocean of Pearls were set into place. One by one, each of the gods filed across the surface of this globe to place upon it their handiwork, each carefully sculpted from Ether. Flora and Fauna of land, sea and air flourished, and the gods looked upon what they had made, and pleased themselves with toying with their creations upon the world they called Arkon.
Now it was Caine's turn to set upon the face of Arkon. Descending and surveying all that his peers had made, the Valorous did not feel much obliged to follow in their footsteps, as he wanted something different, and so he forged an odd creature, one which moved on two legs, yet did not fly, a creature which did not seem like what any self-respecting deity would create, clumsy and weak compared to the other beings upon Arkon. But to make it special, Caine took a part of his strength and courage and put it into the being he had just made, before breathing upon it to set it going.
And he called this creature "Man."
Initially, the other gods looked upon this oddity and its spindly limbs, and teased Caine for wielding together such a shoddy piece of work.
"Look at what the cookie-hogger has made," they laughed.
Before their eyes, the strange creation began behaving in bizarre ways. The Man Caine had made began to find strange stones, knocking them upon tinder to create fire. With crude tools, he began to cut down trees which Isabelli had planted, and from them made a shelter from the harsh winds Atohl sent across Arkon. Crafting weapons from stone and wood, the Man hunted animals and hewed their skins together to make a covering from the cold.
Although This "Man" would never achieve any semblance of power nearing that of his creator, he could still think, innovate, and create like the gods, and the Pantheon wondered how this could be so.
When Caine admitted to placing some of himself into the being he had created, the gods were horrified! Shunning this one they considered a miscreant, (as well as a cookie glutton) they returned to occupying themselves with their works.
Piqued by this new approach at creation, a small handful of deities did just the opposite and asked Caine to show them how to create a creature-one which would pose no threat to their power, yet set apart by godlike qualities, one which would be a testament to their power as long as this world stood.
Having no choice, poor Caine took another lump of Ether, kneading it till it became the form he wanted and this time placing within the figure a portion of his kindness and love, breathed upon it to set it going, and set it beside the "Man" he had created.
He called this one "Woman".
Impressed, the gods whom had watched set upon their own tasks, racing to see whom could mould the best creation. Hydros took her aquatic agility and grace, and made the amphibious Gillfin of southern Alleria. Wis took his intellect and knowledge, and shaped the first Elf. Not to be outdone, Isabelli took her iron-hard will, and wrought Dwarves from the earth. Nozomi used his wit and laughter, and made the merry, short gnomes, intended to me an eternal joke. Setting them upon Arkon, those gods watched as their races grew, multiplied, and flourished, each claiming different tracts of land for their own.
However, the joy of creation was to be short-lived. Alone in the Planes, the Elemental Lords were gaining power, and beginning to ask questions such as "why are we always subservient to the sometimes whimsical demands of the gods?" Because of their increasingly independent thinking and behaviour, the gods were terrified that their previous creations might actually rise up against them, and set about undoing their work, wiping out every Elemental Lord they could lay their hands upon. Caine, of course, refused to take part in such genocide, and retreated back to Arkon to dwell amongst the humans he had made. Abandoned by their patron gods for that period of time, the other races were taken under the wing of Caine, and that is why every mortal on Arkon today knows who the Valorous is, though they may call him by different names.
It was then Duffikus struck. Brooding within the darkness for so long, the Devourer assaulted the Elemental Planes, seeking revenge for that wrong so long ago. Leading the Demonic Legion, Majordomo Kazrak by his side and the Eight, Jhentoor, Licy, Viligar, Zaltas, Moldabi, Proteus, Shannrah and Ionsaigh, each leading a regiment of renegades, they waged war upon the Pantheon, secure in the belief they were toppling unjust tyrants…
Distracted by their battle with their previous creations, the gods were caught unprepared and were forced to retreat to the Plane of Air, hoping to vent their fury upon what few Elementals remained. While they were doing so, those who led the Elemental Lords, Fyraxus, Desen, Tangg, Trenton and Decasia opened a portal to Arkon and the Elemental Lords escaped into the world, hiding from their vengeful creators.
Decasia, Lady of Time, distorted the flow of her element in order to allow the escape to succeed. Wrathful though the gods were, destroying her would threaten the space-time continuum, and so they settled for shackling her into the Void after destroying every other Time Elemental. Inside the hellish blackness she still dwells, with only the spirits of the recently deceased to keep her company.
Triumphant, the Devourer consolidated his new empire, renaming the Elemental Planes of earth, fire, air and water the Demonic Planes, forever corrupted by the taint of hate. Yet his thirst for vengeance was not satisfied, and Duffikus' baleful eye gazed upon the world of Arkon from his throne upon the Plane of Fire. While he could not destroy the gods directly, the Devourer planned to humiliate them through their little creation and push them off the pedestals they had placed themselves upon.
Vowing never to let themselves be caught off guard again, the Pantheon decided to make guardians for the world they had created, and so the demigods K'thus and Ar'zsha, Dragonlord and Dragonmother were born, and from them sprung forth not one, but two races: the Great Dragons and the Dragonkin, humanoid yet reptilian beings. (Author's note: the whole legend of the above may be found on chapter four of Arkonese Shorts.)
Granted, Duffikus could not manifest himself within Arkon, but he did not need to-the Devourer and his minions crept about, sowing seeds of greed, distrust, jealousy and hate amongst the mortals of Arkon, seeds which would bear the bitter fruit of war.
But he remembered the kindness and humility Caine had shown him, and did not foul humans.
Amused by the actions of their little beings, the gods laughed and made bets upon whose would outdo all the others, as the Devourer smiled with satisfaction at the discord he had sown.
Emanating from the ground, the blood of innocents cried out to Caine, and the Valorous wept in secret away from the other deities, for they would surely mock him for such soft-heartedness.
Yet more time went by. Generations passed. Empires rose and fell. Seemingly, Arkon slipped into droll certainty, though border skirmishes still took place periodically. In Central Alleria, a great, prosperous kingdom arose, overseen by a queen whom had no name, a wise, even-handed and most capable ruler who had only one fault: she was fearful of the day she would pass away, and sought all sorts of means to prolong her lifespan, though it would eventually be of no use: there is no mortal magic which can extend life indefinitely, nor grant it.
It was then Duffikus made his move.
Cajoling the Nameless Queen with the promise of eternal life if she summoned his corporeal form into Arkon, the one who led the demonic legion appealed to her fear and managed to get her to pull off the feat. When the gods heard of the news, they fled from Arkon to Whalthok, remembering their past defeat at the hands of their servant, even as the tide of gibbering, howling monstrosities from the Demonic Planes threatened to sweep over the whole of Alleria, and eventually, Arkon.
But the Valorous did not forsake his creations. Rallying all the races of the world, Caine waged war against his now-malformed and blinded servant, desperately trying to push back the darkness which engulfed the land, the Sentinels and their spawn by his side. United by the threat of extinction, all the races dropped their petty squabbles and pitched in to help to whatever extent they could, an epic battle which raged for three hundred Rounds known as The Blighting. During that period of time, the lands of the Nameless Queen were razed, the very life sucked out of them, and today Arkonese know the place only as the Scorched Lands, where only the Black Dragonkin Flight and Remnants of the Demonic Legion still live upon the barren earth, hemmed in by the efforts of the Red Flight and Elemental Firelords.
Doom, despair and destruction were widespread, and as the Nameless Queen looked upon what she had wrought upon Arkon, and a small shard of repentance formed in her heart. Gathering what courage remained within, she sold out her benefactor in the Great Betrayal, backstabbing the Devourer's earthly form with a dagger of Brightsilver, a holy metal not mined, but rather transmuted through the Pantheon's blessings.
As Duffikus' form dissolved into dust, he called a curse upon the Nameless Queen, a curse of Eternal Life that she so desired. For all those of her blood would turn into wolves as the twin moons rose full, and they would not die, unless it be by fire, silver, or being torn to pieces. Furthermore, the curse would be highly contagious…all those who fell foul of a bite, yet managed to survive, would themselves be transformed as beasts, consumed by bloodlust.
So began the race of werewolves.
In the previous story, Pathways of Darkness, two werewolves, L'zul and Garradan sought to find a place to sink their roots and be accepted. Though they knew that their chances were slim, they still pressed on, especially L'zul, whom had a mysterious and extremely long past. After freeing one of their kind, a young woman named Iryane whom was fated to become a fur coat, the three ventured into the Northern Ranges on their quest, with little luck.
Moving out of the Sapphire Hegemony, an alliance for northern Allerian Kingdoms, they chanced upon D'raneor, an Brown Dragonkin and ex-apprentice of the Arcane Academy. Oddly, this young (by Dragonkin standards) whelpling offered to hire them as an escort, though seemingly not having the means to do so.
Unbeknownst to them, the Eight had lain in wait for over eighteen hundred Rounds, waiting for The Blighting to become a distant memory before attempting to bring their master back into the world. Controlled in part by those demons, D'raneor unknowingly led the werewolves to the tablet where they were imprisoned. When L'zul broke the spell of binding which held the ritual needed to summon Duffikus, the Black Flight showed up. Massacring almost everyone at the excavation site save the werewolves, who could not be killed and D'raneor, who had been knocked out earlier and presumed dead by the foolish task force, the draconic humanoids carted off the tablet to the Scorched Lands.
So began a journey, one which eventually took them to a point where here was nearly there, a place known as Ik'liss. With the Red Flight and Elemental Firelords stalling the armies of the Black Dragonkin, L'zul was able to foil the plans of General D'rakkor and his mother Brood Mother K'arlith, at the cost of both the lives of Overlord W'rmthalak of the Gold Flight and Garradan.
As a reward of sorts, Zh'ess, Head Lorekeeper of the Gold Flight, offered the two werewolves some land on which they would be protected and settle upon.
But this is not a story about werewolves. Well, they do factor in, but they're not the stars of this work.
Balance has always been important on Arkon. Fire and Earth perfectly weight against Water and Air…another example would be the way one must keep a path between righteousness and tolerance, to keep away from the trap of zealotry the Noble Avengers have fallen into, yet shy away from anarchy.
This is the story of one in the Balance, one delicately poised on the fine line between consuming darkness and blinding light.